Hark the Ech’ing Air (from The Fairy Queen), Z629/48b – Purcell realization for high voice and piano (June – 19 November 1939, Britten aged 26)
Dedication not known
Audio clips (with thanks to Decca and Hyperion)
The original [Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano), English Chamber Orchestra / Benjamin Britten]
The realization [Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)]
Background and Critical Reception
The second of Britten’s Purcell realizations, described by Paul Kildea as ‘an ecstatic colloquy between voice and piano, the small amount of text spread over a large number of bars, each filled with ornamentation, onomatopoeia, repetition of words and phrases and the sort of free-wheeling coloratura Pears was yet to master. The musical phrases are of wildly varying lengths, while the joyful piano realization embroiders the text with great skill and cheek’.
Couldn’t put it better myself! An introduction to Britten’s realizations of Purcell can be found on the blog here
It is interesting hearing Purcell’s original – in Britten’s recording – and the realization, which stays largely faithful to Purcell’s harmony.
What really stands out though is what Kildea highlights, the notes per word – or, in musical terms, melisma – that we expect to have an impact on Britten’s later works. After the relative directness of what we’ve heard in Britten’s output so far, this is going to take a while to get used to.
Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano) (Hyperion)
Lott sings with a bright tone and a great sense of freedom, while Johnson’s piano part is witty and to the point.
There is only one disc of the complete Purcell realizations, unfortunately not available on Spotify.
Also written in 1939: Vaughan Williams – Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus
Next up: Canadian Carnival, Op.19